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Familiar letdown game leaves Calgary Flames demoralized once again

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Oh sure, the Flames broke their normal routine by scoring twice in the third, threatening to pull off their first final-period comeback victory in 15 attempts.

However, in the end, it was the same old.

If it feels like the Flames save their worst hockey for the NHL’s worst teams, you might be comforted in knowing you’re not wrong.

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Against teams currently sitting outside the playoffs, the Flames have stumbled to an 11-11-6 record.

That’s 17 losses against bottom feeders – the type of games that are considered baseline wins if you are to make the playoffs.

“We’re not helping ourselves,” groused Mikael Backlund, whose second-period goal got the Flames within one, extending his points streak to seven games.

“It’s hard to play these guys too. No team is easy in this league – it’s the best league in the world.

“I’ve been in the position where you’re way out of the playoffs and most of those teams are young teams with guys who want to prove themselves in the league or get new deals.

“If you give them some life, they’re hanging around.

“That’s been our issue. We haven’t put our foot on the gas and taken over games and pushed them out of games.

“It’s making it hard on ourselves.”

Of their last six losses, four came against goalies with names like Jaxson Stauber, Mads Sogaard, Magnus Hellberg and, on Monday, Ersson.

The 23-year-old fifth rounder did well to put his 172-pound frame in front of plenty of high-quality Flames chances to run his career-opening win streak to six games.

There was a timely post aiding his cause late in the proceedings, as well as a few that rattled off the fifth-rounder’s torso almost by accident.

“Yeah, he made some pretty big saves there,” said Andrew Mangiapane, who tied the game with 11 minutes left.

“I don’t know, I kinda feel like it’s happening a little too much now and we’ve got to put the onus on ourselves.”

No question.

Thing is, offensively isn’t where the Flames felt challenged Monday – it was in their own zone, where coverage was an issue on all four finishes.

Jacob Markstrom had little chance on the first three, with the game-winner being a finish in-tight everyone in red would like to have back.

With morale on the wane, inside and outside the dressing room, it’s getting harder and harder to believe this Flames club is capable of piecing together the type of run required to stay in this playoff race.

Flames’ locker room demoralized by same old script after another disappointing loss

Their longest win streak of the year has been three games.

It’s been almost a month since they’ve won a measly back-to-back.

“I think it just comes down to us being consistent,” said Noah Hanifin.

“At this time of year, no matter who we are playing – top team or bottom team – we’ve got to worry about Flames hockey and play consistently.

“We can’t let our game dip at all. The rest of the year we’re going to have to tighten that up, obviously.”

It could get worse, as the Flames now set out for a three-game roadie starting in Tempe, Arizona to play a top contender for the Connor Bedard contestant, followed by a game 24 hours later in Vegas where the Flames have never, ever won.

After that, the defending champs.

And they’ll likely make the journey without Michael Stone, who was seen sporting a boot and crutches as he hobbled into the Dome Monday.

Limping along – something these Flames know all about.

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Playoff Takeaways: Rangers stay unbeaten in post-season, take 3-0 stranglehold on Hurricanes – Sportsnet.ca

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Rangers stay unbeaten in post-season, take 3-0 stranglehold on Hurricanes

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The New York Rangers took a stranglehold on the Carolina Hurricanes with a 3-0 lead in their second-round series thanks to a 3-2 overtime win on Thursday night.

It was an absolute heartbreaker for the Hurricanes, who tied things up with 1:36 to go in the third period, to the absolute delight of their raucous home crowd in Raleigh. But fewer than two minutes into overtime, Artemi Panarin deflected one in to give New York the win, sucking the air out of PNC Arena.

This is the seventh straight win for New York, who are perfect these playoffs after sweeping Washington in Round 1.

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Carolina badly outshot New York for the third straight game, and got nothing in return for its efforts. Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin was again his team’s best player.

Panarin’s tipper gives Rangers the overtime win in Game 3

Here are our takeaways from New York’s incredible seventh straight playoff win:

Good start for the Canes, Guentzel heating up

This game felt promising for Carolina early on, and it was Jake Guentzel who gave the Hurricanes the 1-0 lead midway through the first, tipping in a Dmitry Orlov point shot.

The Caniac fans lost it and the smoke machines went off after that, and PNC Arena was rocking.

The 29-year-old Guentzel is heating up, as he’s been known to do this time of year, with three goals in the last two games. He now has 65 points in 65 career playoff games.

Bad blood

There was a bit of an on-ice rumble late in the first, and it resulted in four penalties — two for each team.

Penalties handed to Rangers, Hurricanes as emotions run high

It started when Rangers centre Barclay Goodrow skated in hard and gave Hurricanes goalie Pyotr Kochetkov a poke on the glove, and that set everybody off. Jimmy Vesey went after Orlov. Goodrow starting yapping at the Hurricanes bench, who had plenty to say back. A bunch of skirmishes went on, and then Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Vesey threw their gloves down to fight, but the refs quickly broke that up.

During a TV timeout, Hurricanes defender Tony DeAngelo dropped his gloves while he was standing in front of his bench, yelling at a bunch of Rangers standing in front of their bench.

Tensions were high.

Big test for Kochetkov

After two straight losses to open this series, the Hurricanes opted to give Frederik Andersen a rest, and turned to Kochetkov.

It marked Kochetkov’s first game this post-season, and his second playoff start ever. The 24-year-old Russian netminder hadn’t started a game since April 14.

He wasn’t tested a whole lot early, but Kochetkov came up with some big saves in the game, including a beautiful poke-check on Filip Chytil, who returned to New York’s lineup after being out with an injury since January.

Kochetkov gave his team a chance to win on Thursday, and had 22 saves in the loss.

Shorty equalizer

As if the Hurricanes power play wasn’t woeful enough — 0-14 in this series so far — the Rangers tied things up in the second period while a man down.

Zibanejad and Kreider connect to score shorthanded goal

Off a broken play, Mika Zibanejad picked up the puck off the boards and headed up the left wing, while Chris Kreider drove to the net like a rocket. Zibanejad hit him with a nice little saucer pass, which Kreider deflected off his backhand to beat Kochetkov five-hole.

Kreider then launched himself into the glass in celebration — a 32-inch vertical, as measured by Sportsnet’s Hockey Central panel. None of the Carolina fans in those front rows liked that jump one bit.

Kreider now has three goals in the last two games.

Quick release go-ahead goal

Panarin fought off a check and managed to shovel a backhand pass over to Alexis Lafreniere, and the 22-year-old got his wrist shot off immediately, firing it through the legs of the defender, and into the top corner, glove side, to give the Rangers their first lead in this game, 6:25 into the third.

Lafreniere gives Rangers lead with one-time snipe in Game 3

It was Lafreniere’s third goal of the post-season, and he’s now riding a four-game point streak.

There were a few Rangers fans sitting in the front row, and they were all on their feet, and an amped-up Lafreniere skated over there during his celebration and yelled, “What’s up!” while he got hugs from his teammates.

What was up? The Rangers were, 2-1.

Svechnikov comes up huge

The game-tying goal came from just the guy you expected to pot it: Andrei Svechnikov.

The winger had been buzzing all game, creating opportunities with his size and speed and hands, and this one came after Carolina had pulled their goalie, with just 1:36 on the clock and fans on their feet.

Svechnikov scores late tying goal to force OT in Game 3

Svechnikov pounced on a rebound in the slot and beat Svechnikov on the blocker side, sending those fans into an absolute tizzy and eventually sending this game into overtime.

Breadman the OT hero

Last game’s hero in double-OT, Vincent Trochek, picked up a rim around the boards and dished it over to Panarin, and with a quick deflection, that was that. This one was over just 1:43 into overtime.

Panarin ran on the ice, then pretended to kick a field goal just before his teammates covered him with hugs.

Game 4 is Saturday at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT on Sportsnet at PNC Arena.

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Toronto pounds Minnesota with 4-0 win in PWHL playoff opening – The Globe and Mail

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PWHL Toronto forward Sarah Nurse defends the puck from PWHL Minnesota defender Sophie Jaques as PWHL Toronto takes on PWHL Minnesota in the inaugural playoff game at Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto on May 8.Sammy Kogan�/The Globe and Mail

For the top-seeded team from Toronto, the first playoff game in the Professional Women’s Hockey League was everything it could have asked for.

In front of a packed house of 8,473 on Wednesday night, Toronto pounded Minnesota 4-0 in the opening game of their best-of-five series – the initial glimpse of playoff hockey in this breakout new league.

Natalie Spooner etched her name in the history books for the second time this year, as the PWHL’s inaugural scoring champ scored the league’s first postseason goal. Toronto captain Blayre Turnbull had a two-goal night.

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It was the league’s first game inside Coca-Cola Coliseum – a move prompted by big ticket demand in the city to see this team. Toronto had played its regular-season home games at 2,500-seat Mattamy Athletic Centre this season and sold out each one.

The PWHL says it has not yet made any decisions about where the Toronto team will play home games next season. But it’s hard to imagine a better audition for the franchise to play more often at Coca-Cola Coliseum, home of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, than Wednesday’s game. The crowd was engaged, dotted heavily with blue jerseys, families, and lots of young girls with handmade signs with message such as, “MY PWHL.” Tickets for the game – ranging from $32 to $117 – were hard to secure. Most, outside a few in standing room, sold out in minutes.

The Toronto team expected to pack the place, especially after selling out the NHL rink in town for one game earlier this year.

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PWHL Toronto players celebrate forward Natalie Spooner’s first goal of the game.Sammy Kogan�/The Globe and Mail

“Having home crowds like that really helps calm the nerves,” said Turnbull. “We kind of knew what to expect, after our game at Scotiabank [Arena], and then having these games sell out just as quickly as that one did.”

The league is exploring getting Toronto PWHL into a bigger home rink next season, if even for some games. Teams had 12 home dates in the first season’s 24-game schedule, but that will grow to a 30-game schedule next season, with 15 dates at home.

Per a unique PWHL playoff rule, top-seeded Toronto got to pick its first-round opponent, either fourth-seeded Minnesota or third-seeded Boston. The team from the State of Hockey was determined to make Toronto pay for that choice, but in fact, in Game 1, Minnesota didn’t at all resemble the star-powered group they had been at times earlier this year.

The past few days had not been comfy for Minnesota. The team backed into the playoffs, not on its own win, but thanks to a loss by Ottawa on Sunday. That’s when Minnesota learned it qualified for the playoffs. Then Toronto had 24 hours to decide who to play, leaving the other three playoff teams swinging for a day, waiting to make travel plans. The PWHL’s teams travel commercially, so Minnesota left home bright and early Tuesday for Toronto.

Spooner opened the scoring midway through the first period, when the Canadian Olympic gold medalist floated in on the wing and fired a wrist shot past Minnesota goalie Nicole Hensley, nestling it just inside the post. It was the Scarborough native’s 21st of the season in Game No. 25.

The stadium DJ blared Toronto’s goal song, Lady Gaga’s Applause, by now synonymous with the PWHL’s top-scoring team. A sign from one fan celebrated the 33-year-old player who juggles a toddler son: “Spooner=Mom Power.”

Minutes later, after doing a quick on-bench interview, Spooner was back on the ice, pouncing on a mid-ice turnover and racing in for a breakaway with a defender clinging to her. Minnesota thwarted that chance and was tracking Spooner’s every step, but she wiggled loose to make things happen all night.

Emma Maltais scored Toronto’s second goal, early in the second period. Sarah Nurse carried it end to end then dished a pass to Maltais, who cajoled Hensley across her crease then tucked it in the five-hole.

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Toronto captain Blayre Turnbull had a two-goal night.Sammy Kogan�/The Globe and Mail

Spooner set up Toronto’s third goal, delivering a pass across the mouth of the net to Turnbull, who directed it in. Turnbull added another goal in the third. Toronto’s firepower was too much.

“Anytime Spooner has the puck and she’s close to the net, she’s either putting an accurate shot where the goalie is not, or she’s making a hard pass to someone’s blade,” said Turnbull. “Snytime she has the puck in the ozone, you know, she’s a threat.”

Toronto used depth, looked like a team balanced, confident and sturdy enough to weather a playoff run. Even the 13th forward got decent minutes. No need to lean too heavily on stars just yet.

“The success of our team is in the variance,” said Toronto Coach Ryan.

Minnesota – a talented squad spotted with U.S. national team stars, from Kendall Coyne Schofield to Grace Zumwinkle and No. 1 draft pick Taylor Heise – had chances. It outshot Toronto 26-19, 11-4 in just the second period.

But Toronto goalie Kristen Campbell kicked away or absorbed Minnesota’s attempts, including a slapper by Zumwinkle at close range. As Toronto fans have all season, they reacted to Campbell’s saves by hollering SOUP!

Toronto’s league-leading penalty kill was staunch again, denying Minnesota some prime opportunities.

As it has all year, Toronto blared Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 after securing the win, a nod to the women who now make a living playing hockey.

Game 2 will take place Friday in Toronto before the series swings to Saint Paul, Minn.

Boston and Montreal will play Game 1 of the other semi-final series at Place Bell, an AHL rink that seats more than 10,000, on Thursday in Laval, Que. Game 2 in the Toronto series is Friday night.

The final two teams will battle for the Walter Cup later this month.

With the playoff audience tuned in on Wednesday, the PWHL released some data on its inaugural season: total attendance of 392,259 for its 72 games; more than 40 corporate sponsorships; one million social-media followers and 238 million total impressions; plus 100,000 subscribers to its YouTube channel, with viewers from 88 countries.

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